It all started with an omelet (stuffed with mushrooms, caramelized onions and Merquez sausage) a huge plate of crispy fries drowning silently under a sheet of brown gravy and cheese curds (poutine classique). And a cup of greasy, bitter coffee. What more could I want? The oily crunch of the fries mixed fantastically with the faintly squeaky curds to for a culinary miracle in the mouth. Counting calories never even entered the picture (and yes, each plate is bigger than my head).
We exited quaint La Banquise — a 24-hour Montreal mainstay since 1968 (http://labanquise.com/en/), where we had stuffed ourselves silly — and emerged again on St. Laurent. Diesel exhaust and traffic were our sidewalk companions — but I never mind these big city smells. This end of St. Laurent was in a seemingly self-aware state of disrepair, littered by a smattering of interesting and trendy people and venues. All this, coupled with an edgy, artsy tinge was fascinating — like an abandoned pile of half-painted chairs we spotted under a building so plastered with posters it may or may not have had walls at all. The street was a cultural mash-up of dingy little Italian restaurants, Lebanese bistros and mysterious black-tinted army surplus stores.
We turned off St. Laurent onto quiet, quaint side streets as we made our way to Mont Royal — the only mountain in town, although by my Coloradoan standards, most definitely a hill 🙂 Even so, it was a charming hump of greenery and hardwoods interlaced with twisting paths delving off a very wide gravel path (which is apparently used for skiing in the winter months). The whole place was overrun with runners as a dog is overrun with fleas.
Onward we went, like two little American ships in a sea of Canadians. We eventually found an extensive staircase that took us skyward (with a bounty of runners and several office types, loosening their ties for a heart pumping lunch break stair session). At the top, we leaned on a stone wall with everybody else, enjoying a wide panorama of Montreal, nestled in the curve of the St. Laurent river like a bottle of maple syrup carried in a hungry Canadian’s elbow.
And it was all downhill from there, as they say. Down the same stairs we came up, down sloping San Francisco style streets by the University. Down ramped sets of pavement that all dumped into the skyscraped chaos of downtown Montreal, where we located a sufficient pit stop for caffeine and feet resting. Then, it was underground into the crowded rush hour metro for a little jazz music and a ride on the green line to the Biodome.
By the time we finished gawking at crocodiles, multi-limbed starfish, a shy lynx and some colorful ibises (ibisi? Who knows) it was time to duck back into the hotel and freshen up for dinner. We’d located a sufficiently delicious-looking Indian restaurant (the building looked absolutely scrumptious) on our jaunt the night before. A sign in the window said “apportez votre propre vin” (bring your own wine) and so we did, sipping on a Montreal white, watching people go by.
Sometime after the samosas and pappadam with pickled carrots and yogurt sauce, the rain began. By the time we polished off our chicken tandoori, lamb bhuna, mushroom curry and naan the rain became torrential. No umbrellas had we, a fact we lamented as we ate an exotically spiced little pound cake saturated by a light, carmelized sugar sauce. Munching on fennel seeds (to cleanse our breath) we rushed out into the deluge. I attempted to become one with the rain, although it was a dank, humid sort that pierced through my good intentions and my thin dress. Even so, I savored the feeling of saturation, turning my face to the huge gray droplets as we waited for a light to change across from our hotel.